While many American athletes have that golden gleam in their eyes as they look toward the Moscow Olympics, the U.S. weightlifting coaches see 1980 in the black-and-white shades of reality.
"I'm going to be brutally frank with you . . .as things stand now our chances for weightlifting medals at Moscow are not too good . . .not too good at all," said Rudy Sabio, the weightlifing manager in Montreal and now the sport's representative on the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We've hit a low point in international competition," added Dick Smith, manager for the 1980 Games.
Smith and Sablo agree that the problems with American lifters lie not so much in biceps as in deficient mental attitude. Sablo has coached international weightlifting as far back as 1946, when the U.S. was outlifting the world for a seven-year stretch. There's pain and anger in his voice when he talks of his sport's generation gap.
"Our boys seem to get just about at the level of international competition and then something happens" he said. "They settle for American championships and they have a thing with excuses . . .they just don't follow up on the sport.
"In my opinion, if a fella really wants to dedicate himself, we have the capabilities in our program to turn out the best . . .our fellas just have that excuses thing."
"Our lifters say they have to earn a living while the Iron Curtain lifters are supported so they constantly work out," Sablo said. "That's not true. The Iron Curtain lifters just have a better attitude. Our boys freeze up in international competition."
Typical of those stricken by the international freeze is Kurt Setterberg, a 100-kilo class (220 pounds) lifter described by Smith as having " great potential. But when he gets in international compeition he gets so doggone nervous."
Setterberg has been known to drop six to eight pounds during the week before a meet, purely from tension.
Sablo thinks his athletes have too much freedom. He uses Mark Cameron, a lifter from Hyattsville, as exhibit A to prove his point.
"Mark was expected to win a medal in Montreal. Before the competition I warned everyone there would be medical tests done on them and it was totally up to them to get through the tests clean. I think Mark was worried about the tests and he came in fifth. As it turned out, he was disqualified because his test came up positive (for steroids). Steroids are as easy to get as pot or anything like that. Our Athletes can get and use these things on their own."
Although Sablo says Cameron has not improved significantly since Montreal, Smith insists Cameron has "more potential than anyone in the country. He has the ability to do great things. He can put a lot of pressure on in that category with a little more confidence in himself."
But Sablo and Smith both feel things are beginning to improve. The weighlifting program is getting considerably more financial support from the USOC. The money is going not only to improved facilities but, hopefully, the hearts and minds of the lifters.
Smith will be holding seminars to try to counter the aura of the Eastern European champions.
"We'll be showing films of the Russian lifters to show our boys that the technique of most Eastern Europeans isn't that great," he said. "They are not so unbeatable . . .they just have great attitudes."
Besides Cameron and Setterberg, Smith has high hopes for Guy Carlton of Laplace, Ill., in the 100-kilo class and for Tom Stock, a super-heavy-weight from Belleville, Ill., who lately has been turning in his best lifts.
One the international scene, Smith is most excited about the Soviet Union's Yuri Vardanyan in the 75-kilo class, who "is so terrific he can play concert piano without music and move over and set four records a minute later." Vardanyan also plays a lot of volleyball where he spikes with a 40-inch vertical leap, according to Smith.
As for Soviet super-heavyweight Vasily Alexiev, the most famous weightlifter in the world, this could be his last Olympics. At 37, Alexiev is said to be intent on winning one more gold medal and retiring. Smith says there are some Soviet lifters good enough to keep Alexiev from complacency, but "the man has so much pride - I don't see him losing."